Frank Isola: Neymar owes it to himself to test himself against the best

Santos is convinced it can hold onto Neymar until after the 2014 World Cup, but eventually the Brazilian needs to join the world's elite.
Brazil has its beautiful beaches, weather and women. (Not necessarily in that order, but you get the point.) The soccer-crazed nation also boasts the best footballer not currently playing in Europe: Neymar.

It appears as if Neymar won’t be relocating to Barcelona, Real Madrid or a Premier League side anytime soon. And that’s too bad.

Santos president Luis Alvaro de Oliveira reiterated that the club’s prized possession, 20-year-old Neymar, will remain in Brazil until at least 2014, which happens to be the same year the country will host the World Cup. That means we have to wait at least another two years before we see the Neymar-Lionel Messi combination work their magic at Camp Nou.

"The odds on Neymar leaving before 2014 are the same as zero,” Oliveira told a Spanish radio station recently. “I also hope that the player continues after 2014. We are going to compete with Barca and with Real at the end of the player's contract to keep him in Brazil for longer.”

Despite signing a contract extension with Santos last November, Neymar remains a constant source of transfer chatter and for good reason. He is a dynamic talent who is being touted as Brazil’s next great superstar. Neymar, with his boyish looks and funky hairstyle, has already scored 100 goals as a professional. The time to move on is arriving sooner than later.

The club owes it to Neymar and quite frankly Neymar owes it to himself to travel abroad and challenge himself against the top European teams. Other Brazilian stars – Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka – have made their mark in Europe. It’s only natural that Neymar is next in line.

Oliveira’s outrage, which is borderline insincere, is in some ways understandable. He doesn’t want clubs to think they can just swoop in and steal Neymar. Santos can leverage Neymar into a significant transfer fee, which is its right. Plus, if Neymar performs well at the World Cup – Brazil as the host nation will be heavily favored – that only increases his value.

Oliveira was sending out mixed messages in his radio interview. On the one hand, he’s telling teams to back off, declaring that Neymar "is very happy in Brazil and at Santos. I hope to win the heart of the player once again."

But then in the same interview Oliveira also acknowledges the possibility that Neymar won’t be spending his entire career in Brazil, saying, "It’s not certain that if Neymar leaves Santos that he is only going to go to Barca."

You don’t need to speak Portuguese to understand what Oliveira is saying: make your best offer. That means that Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are all in play.


Does Major League Soccer have a shot? I would say maybe five or 10 years down the road, but not now. Although it is worth noting that Neymar created a quite a stir when he showed up for a Red Bulls-Galaxy playoff game in Harrison, New Jersey last October. At the very least, Neymar, David Beckham and Thierry Henry made for a nice photo op.

And if Neymar was looking for advice you have to feel that Beckham and Henry endorsed the idea of playing in the EPL and/or joining one of Spain’s top two teams. You have to believe Neymar is destined to follow in their footsteps. Maybe one day he ends up playing in MLS. Wouldn’t that be something?

Let’s just say, 2014 can’t come soon enough.